Q: What can you tell me about the new disease to monarch butterflies?
A: Actually, the disease is not really new, but the information is being shared now with more and more homeowners as we have discovered intensification on its spread across the nation. In fact, the disease, called Ophryocystis elektroscirrha or OE, was discovered in Florida in 1966. The causal agent is a protozoan which will cause several problems for the butterfly while it is in the pupa stage. This protozoan has a very complex life cycle and it must be eaten by the larvae in order to become a problem for monarchs. The butterfly, during its pupa stage, may become very deformed or weak. It is possible for the butterfly to be so damaged by the parasite that the butterfly eventually dies. There has been some evidence the parasites are commonly found on milkweed (monarch’s favorite food) other than native milkweed. That does not mean we should rip up all our hybrid milkweeds this year as the monarchs will need some food source this fall. However, it might be a good idea to start replacing the milkweed we currently have in our gardens with the pale pink, native varieties. I have already contacted one of our local nurseries about ordering the native variety so we can have it for the Nassau County Demonstration Garden. Be sure to ask your local garden centers if they will stock the native varieties too. Some of the best information on this butterfly pest comes from the University of Georgia. The publication is attached: http://www.uga.edu/monarchparasites/whatisOE/index.html